22+ Best Dante Gabriel Rossetti Poems You Must Read

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, generally known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator, and a member of the Rossetti family.

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Famous Dante Gabriel Rossetti Poems

The Mirror

SHE knew it not:—most perfect pain
To learn: this too she knew not. Strife
For me, calm hers, as from the first.
‘Twas but another bubble burst
Upon the curdling draught of life,—
My silent patience mine again.
As who, of forms that crowd unknown
Within a distant mirror’s shade,
Deems such an one himself, and makes
Some sign; but when the image shakes
No whit, he finds his thought betray’d,
And must seek elsewhere for his own.

The Honeysuckle

I PLUCKED a honeysuckle where
The hedge on high is quick with thorn,
And climbing for the prize, was torn,
And fouled my feet in quag-water;
And by the thorns and by the wind
The blossom that I took was thinn’d,
And yet I found it sweet and fair.
Thence to a richer growth I came,
Where, nursed in mellow intercourse,
The honeysuckles sprang by scores,
Not harried like my single stem,
All virgin lamps of scent and dew.
So from my hand that first I threw,
Yet plucked not any more of them.

The English Revolution Of 1848 

HO ye that nothing have to lose! ho rouse ye, one and all!
Come from the sinks of the New Cut, the purlieus of Vauxhall!
Did ye not hear the mighty sound boom by ye as it went—
The Seven Dials strike the hour of man’s enfranchisement?
Ho cock your eyes, my gallant pals, and swing your heavy staves:
Remember—Kings and Queens being out, the great cards will be Knaves.
And when the pack is ours—oh then at what a slapping pace
Shall the tens be trodden down to five, and the fives kicked down to ace!
It was but yesterday the Times and Post and Telegraph
Told how from France King Louy-Phil. was shaken out like chaff;
To-morrow, boys, the National, the Siècle, and the Débats,
Shall have to tell the self-same tale of “La Reine Victoria.”
What! shall our incomes we’ve not got be taxed by puny John?
Shall the policeman keep Time back by bidding us move on?
Shall we too follow in the steps of that poor sneak Cochrane?
Shall it be said, “They came, they saw,—and bolted back again”?
Not so! albeit great men have been among us, and are floor’d—
(Frost, Williams, Jones, and other ones who now reside abroad)—
Among the master-spirits of the age there still are those
Who’ll pick up fame—even though, when smelt, it makes men hold the nose.
What ho there! clear the way! make room for him, the “fly” and wise,
Who wrote in mystic grammar about London’s “Mysteries,”—
For him who takes a proud delight to wallow in our kennels,—
For Mr. A. B. C. D. E. F. G. M. W. Reynolds!
Come, hoist him up! his pockets will afford convenient hold
To grab him by; and, if inside there silver is or gold,
And should it be found sticking to our hands when they’re drawn out,
Why, ’twere a chance not fair to say ill-natured things about.
Silence! Hear, hear! He says that we’re the sovereign people, we!
And now? And now he states the fact that one and one make three!
Now he makes casual mention of a certain Miscellany!
He says that he’s the editor! He says it costs a penny!
O thou great Spirit of the World! shall not the lofty things
He saith be borne unto all time for noble lessonings?
Shall not our sons tell to their sons what we could do and dare
In this the great year Forty-eight and in Trafalgar Square?
Swathed in foul wood, yon column stood ‘mid London’s thousand marts;
And at their wine Committeemen grinned as they drank “The Arts”:
But our good flint-stones have bowled down each poster-hidden board,
And from their hoarded malice our strong hands have stript the hoard.
Yon column is a prouder thing than Cæsar’s triumph-arch!
It shall be called “The Column of the Glorious Days of March!”
And stonemasons’ apprentices shall grow rich men therewith,
By contract-chiselling the names of Jones and Brown and Smith.
Upon what point of London, say, shall our next vengeance burst?
Shall the Exchange, or Parliament, be immolated first?
Which of the Squares shall we burn down?—which of the Palaces?
(The speaker is nailed by a policeman)
Oh please sir, don’t! It isn’t me. It’s him. Oh don’t, sir, please!

The Day-Dream

THE thronged boughs of the shadowy sycamore
Still bear young leaflets half the summer through;
From when the robin ‘gainst the unhidden blue
Perched dark, till now, deep in the leafy core,
The embowered throstle’s urgent wood-notes soar
Through summer silence. Still the leaves come new;
Yet never rosy-sheathed as those which drew
Their spiral tongues from spring-buds heretofore.
Within the branching shade of Reverie
Dreams even may spring till autumn; yet none be
Like woman’s budding day-dream spirit-fann’d.
Lo! tow’rd deep skies, not deeper than her look,
She dreams; till now on her forgotten book
Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand.

The Song Of The Bower

SAY, is it day, is it dusk in thy bower,
Thou whom I long for, who longest for me?
Oh! be it light, be it night, ’tis Love’s hour,
Love’s that is fettered as Love’s that is free.
Free love has leaped to that innermost chamber,
Oh! the last time, and the hundred before:
Fettered love, motionless, can but remember,
Yet something that sighs from him passes the door.
Nay, but my heart when it flies to thy bower,
What does it find there that knows it again?
There it must droop like a shower-beaten flower,
Red at the rent core and dark with the rain.
Ah! yet what shelter is still shed above it,—
What waters still image its leaves torn apart?
Thy soul is the shade that clings round it to love it,
And tears are its mirror deep down in thy heart.
What were my prize, could I enter thy bower,
This day, to-morrow, at eve or at morn?
Large lovely arms and a neck like a tower,
Bosom then heaving that now lies forlorn.
Kindled with love-breath, (the sun’s kiss is colder!)
Thy sweetness all near me, so distant to-day;
My hand round thy neck and thy hand on my shoulder,
My mouth to thy mouth as the world melts away.
What is it keeps me afar from thy bower,—
My spirit, my body, so fain to be there?
Waters engulfing or fires that devour?—
Earth heaped against me or death in the air?
Nay, but in day-dreams, for terror, for pity,
The trees wave their heads with an omen to tell;
Nay, but in night-dreams, throughout the dark city,
The hours, clashed together, lose count in the bell.
Shall I not one day remember thy bower,
One day when all days are one day to me?—
Thinking, “I stirred not, and yet had the power!”—
Yearning, “Ah God, if again it might be!”
Peace, peace! such a small lamp illumes, on this highway,
So dimly so few steps in front of my feet,—
Yet shows me that her way is parted from my way….
Out of sight, beyond light, at what goal may we meet?

The Seed Of David (For A Picture)

Christ sprang from David Shepherd, and even so
From David King, being born of high and low.
The Shepherd lays his crook, the King his crown,
Here at Christ’s feet, and high and low bow down.

The Passover In The Holy Family (For A Drawing)

Here meet together the prefiguring day
And day prefigured. “Eating, thou shalt stand,
Feet shod, loins girt, thy road-staff in thine hand,
With blood-stained door and lintel,”—did God say
By Moses’ mouth in ages passed away.
And now, where this poor household doth comprise
At Paschal-Feast two kindred families,—
Lo! the slain lamb confronts the Lamb to slay.
The pyre is piled. What agony’s crown attained,
What shadow of Death the Boy’s fair brow subdues
Who holds that blood wherewith the porch is stained
By Zachary the priest? John binds the shoes
He deemed himself not worthy to unloose;
And Mary culls the bitter herbs ordained.

The Lady’s Lament

Never happy any more!
Aye, turn the saying o’er and o’er,
It says but what it said before,
And heart and life are just as sore.
The wet leaves blow aslant the floor
In the rain through the open door.
No, no more.
Never happy any more!
The eyes are weary and give o’er,
But still the soul weeps as before.
And always must each one deplore
Each once, nor bear what others bore?
This is now as it was of yore.
No, no more.
Never happy any more!
Is it not but a sorry lore
That says, “Take strength, the worst is o’er”?
Shall the stars seem as heretofore?
The day wears on more and more—
While I was weeping the day wore.
No, no more.
Never happy any more!
In the cold behind the door
That was the dial striking four:
One for joy the past hours bore,
Two for hope and will cast o’er,
One for the naked dark before.
No, no more.
Never happy any more!
Put the light out, shut the door,
Sweep the wet leaves from the floor.
Even thus Fate’s hand has swept her floor,
Even thus Love’s hand has shut the door
Through which his warm feet passed of yore.
Shall it be opened any more?
No, no, no more.

There Is A Poor Sneak Called Rossetti

There is a poor sneak called Rossetti
As a painter with many kicks met he
With more as a man
But sometimes he ran
And that saved the rear of Rossetti

The Staircase Of Notre Dame, Paris

As one who, groping in a narrow stair,
Hath a strong sound of bells upon his ears,
Which, being at a distance off, appears
Quite close to him because of the pent air:
So with this France. She stumbles file and square
Darkling and without space for breath: each one
Who hears the thunder says: “It shall anon
Be in among her ranks to scatter her.”
This may be; and it may be that the storm
Is spent in rain upon the unscathed seas,
Or wasteth other countries ere it die:
Till she,—having climbed always through the swarm
Of darkness and of hurtling sound,—from these
Shall step forth on the light in a still sky.

The King’s Tragedy James I. Of Scots.—20th February 1437

The Church-Porches

I
(To M.F.R.)
SISTER, first shake we off the dust we have
Upon our feet, lest it defile the stones
Inscriptured, covering their sacred bones
Who lie i’ the aisles which keep the names they gave,
Their trust abiding round them in the grave;
Whom painters paint for visible orisons,
And to whom sculptors pray in stone and bronze;
Their voices echo still like a spent wave.
Without here, the church-bells are but a tune,
And on the carven church-door this hot noon
Lays all its heavy sunshine here without:
But having entered in, we shall find there
Silence, and sudden dimness, and deep prayer,
And faces of crowned angels all about.
II
(To C.G.R.)

SISTER, arise: We have no more to sing
Or say. The priest abideth as is meet
To minister. Rise up out of thy seat,
Though peradventure ’tis an irksome thing
To cross again the threshold of our King
Where His doors stand against the evil street,
And let each step increase upon our feet
The dust we shook from them at entering.
Must we of very sooth go home? The air,
Whose heat outside makes mist that can be seen,
Is very clear and cool where we have been.
The priest abideth ministering. Lo!
As he for service, why not we for prayer?
It is so bidden, sister, let us go.

The Staff And Scrip

“Who rules these lands?” the Pilgrim said.
“Stranger, Queen Blanchelys.”
“And who has thus harried them?” he said.
“It was Duke Luke did this:
God’s ban be his!”
The Pilgrim said: “Where is your house?
I’ll rest there, with your will.”
“You’ve but to climb these blackened boughs
And you’ll see it over the hill,
For it burns still.”
“Which road, to seek your Queen?” said he.
“Nay, nay, but with some wound
You’ll fly back hither, it may be,
And by your blood i’ the ground
My place be found.”
“Friend, stay in peace. God keep your head,
And mine, where I will go;
For He is here and there,” he said.
He passed the hill-side, slow.
And stood below.
The Queen sat idle by her loom;
She heard the arras stir,
And looked up sadly: through the room
The sweetness sickened her
Of musk and myrrh.
Her women, standing two and two,
In silence combed the fleece.
The Pilgrim said, “Peace be with you,
Lady;” and bent his knees.
She answered, “Peace.”
Her eyes were like the wave within;
Like water-reed the poise
Of her soft body, dainty thin;
And like the water’s noise
Her plaintive voice.
For him, the stream had never well’d
In desert tracts malign
So sweet; nor had he ever felt
So faint in the sunshine
Of Palestine.
Right so, he knew that he saw weep
Each night through every dream
The Queen’s own face, confused in sleep
With visages supreme
Not known to him.
“Lady,” he said, “your lands lie burnt
And waste: to meet your foe
All fear: this I have seen and learnt.
Say that it shall be so,
And I will go.”
She gazed at him. “Your cause is just,
For I have heard the same,”
He said: “God’s strength shall be my trust.
Fall it to good or grame,
‘Tis in His name.”
“Sir, you are thanked. My cause is dead.
Why should you toil to break
A grave, and fall therein?” she said.
He did not pause but spake:
“For my vow’s sake.”
“Can such vows be, Sir—to God’s ear,
Not to God’s will?” “My vow
Remains: God heard me there as here,”
He said with reverent brow,
“Both then and now.”
They gazed together, he and she,
The minute while he spoke;
And when he ceased, she suddenly
Looked round upon her folk
As though she woke.
“Fight, Sir,” she said; “my prayers in pain
Shall be your fellowship.”
He whispered one among her train,—
“To-morrow bid her keep
This staff and scrip.”
She sent him a sharp sword, whose belt
About his body there
As sweet as her own arms he felt.
He kissed its blade, all bare,
Instead of her.
She sent him a green banner wrought
With one white lily stem,
To bind his lance with when he fought.
He writ upon the same
And kissed her name.
She sent him a white shield, whereon
She bade that he should trace
His will. He blent fair hues that shone,
And in a golden space
He kissed her face.
Born of the day that died, that eve
Now dying sank to rest;
As he, in likewise taking leave,
Once with a heaving breast
Looked to the west.
And there the sunset skies unseal’d,
Like lands he never knew,
Beyond to-morrow’s battle-field
Lay open out of view
To ride into.
Next day till dark the women pray’d:
Nor any might know there
How the fight went: the Queen has bade
That there do come to her
No messenger.
The Queen is pale, her maidens ail;
And to the organ-tones
They sing but faintly, who sang well
The matin-orisons,
The lauds and nones.
Lo, Father, is thine ear inclin’d,
And hath thine angel pass’d?
For these thy watchers now are blind
With vigil, and at last
Dizzy with fast.
Weak now to them the voice o’ the priest
As any trance affords;
And when each anthem failed and ceas’d,
It seemed that the last chords
Still sang the words.
“Oh what is the light that shines so red?
‘Tis long since the sun set;”
Quoth the youngest to the eldest maid:
“’Twas dim but now, and yet
The light is great.”
Quoth the other: “’Tis our sight is dazed
That we see flame i’ the air.”
But the Queen held her brows and gazed,
And said, “It is the glare
Of torches there.”
“Oh what are the sounds that rise and spread?
All day it was so still;”
Quoth the youngest to the eldest maid:
“Unto the furthest hill
The air they fill.”
Quoth the other: “’Tis our sense is blurr’d
With all the chants gone by.”
But the Queen held her breath and heard,
And said, “It is the cry
Of Victory.”
The first of all the rout was sound,
The next were dust and flame,
And then the horses shook the ground:
And in the thick of them
A still band came.
“Oh what do ye bring out of the fight,
Thus hid beneath these boughs?”
“Thy conquering guest returns to-night,
And yet shall not carouse,
Queen, in thy house.”
“Uncover ye his face,” she said.
“O changed in little space!”
She cried, “O pale that was so red!
O God, O God of grace!
Cover his face.”
His sword was broken in his hand
Where he had kissed the blade.
“O soft steel that could not withstand!
O my hard heart unstayed,
That prayed and prayed!”
His bloodied banner crossed his mouth
Where he had kissed her name.
“O east, and west, and north, and south,
Fair flew my web, for shame,
To guide Death’s aim!”
The tints were shredded from his shield
Where he had kissed her face.
“Oh, of all gifts that I could yield,
Death only keeps its place,
My gift and grace!”
Then stepped a damsel to her side,
And spoke, and needs must weep:
“For his sake, lady, if he died,
He prayed of thee to keep
This staff and scrip.”
That night they hung above her bed,
Till morning wet with tears.
Year after year above her head
Her bed his token wears,
Five years, ten years.
That night the passion of her grief
Shook them as there they hung.
Each year the wind that shed the leaf
Shook them and in its tongue
A message flung.
And once she woke with a clear mind
That letters writ to calm
Her soul lay in the scrip; to find
Only a torpid balm
And dust of palm.
They shook far off with palace sport
When joust and dance were rife;
And the hunt shook them from the court;
For hers, in peace or strife,
Was a Queen’s life.
A Queen’s death now: as now they shake
To gusts in chapel dim,—
Hung where she sleeps, not seen to wake,
(Carved lovely white and slim),
With them by him.
Stand up to-day, still armed, with her,
Good knight, before His brow
Who then as now was here and there,
Who had in mind thy vow
Then even as now.
The lists are set in Heaven to-day,
The bright pavilions shine;
Fair hangs thy shield, and none gainsay;
The trumpets sound in sign
That she is thine.
Not tithed with days’ and years’ decease
He pays thy wage He owed,
But with imperishable peace
Here in His own abode
Thy jealous God.

Thomae Fides

“DIGITUM tuum, Thoma,
Infer, et vide manûs!
Manum tuam, Thoma,
Affer, et mitte in latus.”
“Dominus et Deus,
Deus,” dixit,
“Et Dominus meus.”
“Quia me vidisti,
Thoma, credidisti.
Beati qui non viderunt,
Thoma, et crediderunt.”
“Dominus et Deus,
Deus,” dixit,
“Et Dominus meus.”

Ladies that have intelligence in love

Ladies that have intelligence in love,
Of mine own lady I would speak with you;
Not that I hope to count her praises through,
But telling what I may, to ease my mind.
And I declare that when I speak thereof,
Love sheds such perfect sweetness over me
That if my courage failed not, certainly
To him my listeners must be all resign’d
Wherefore I will not speak in such large kind
That mine own speech should foil me, which were base;
But only will discourse of her high grace
In these poor words, the best that I can find,
With you alone, dear dames and damozels:
‘Twere ill to speak thereof with any else.

An angel, of his blessed knowledge, saith
To God: ‘Lord, in the world that Thou hast made,
A miracle in action is display’d,
By reason of a soul whose splendors fare
Even hither: and since Heaven requireth
Nought saving her, for her it prayeth Thee,
Thy Saints crying aloud continually.’
Yet Pity still defends our earthly share
In that sweet soul; God answering thus the prayer:
‘My well-belovèd, suffer that in peace
Your hope remain, while so My pleasure is,
There where one dwells who dreads the loss of her:
And who in Hell unto the doomed shall say,
‘I have looked on that for which God’s chosen pray.’ ‘

My lady is desired in the high Heaven:
Wherefore, it now behoveth me to tell,
Saying: Let any maid that would be well
Esteemed keep with her: for as she goes by,
Into foul hearts a deathly chill is driven
By Love, that makes ill thought to perish there:
While any who endures to gaze on her
Must either be ennobled, or else die.
When one deserving to be raised so high
Is found, ’tis then her power attains its proof,
Making his heart strong for his soul’s behoof
With the full strength of meek humility.
Also this virtue owns she, by God’s will:
Who speaks with her can never come to ill.

Love saith concerning her: ‘How chanceth it
That flesh, which is of dust, should be thus pure?’
Then, gazing always, he makes oath: ‘Forsure,
This is a creature of God till now unknown.’
She hath that paleness of the pearl that’s fit
In a fair woman, so much and not more;
She is as high as Nature’s skill can soar;
Beauty is tried by her comparison.
Whatever her sweet eyes are turned upon,
Spirits of love do issue thence in flame,
Which through their eyes who then may look on them
Pierce to the heart’s deep chamber every one.
And in her smile Love’s image you may see;
Whence none can gaze upon her steadfastly.

Dear Song, I know thou wilt hold gentle speech
With many ladies, when I send thee forth:
Wherefore (being mindful that thou hadst thy birth)
From Love, and art a modest, simple child,)
Whomso thou meetest, say thou this to each:
‘Give me good speed! To her I wend along
In whose much strength my weakness is made strong.’
And if, i’ the end, thou wouldst not be beguiled
Of all thy labor seek not the defiled
And common sort; but rather choose to be
Where man and woman dwell in courtesy.
So to the road thou shalt be reconciled,
And find the Lady, and with the lady, Love.
Commend thou me to each, as doth behove.

A Bitter Song to His Lady

O LADY amorous,
Merciless lady,
Full blithely play’d ye
These your beguilings.
So with an urchin
A man makes merry, —
In mirth grows clamorous,
Laughs and rejoices, —
But when his choice is
To fall aweary,
Cheats him with silence.
This is Love’s portion: —
In much wayfaring
With many burdens
He loads his servants,
But at the sharing,
The underservice
And overservice
Are alike barren.

As my disaster
Your jest I cherish,
And well may perish.
Even so a falcon
Is sometimes taken
And scantly cautell’d;
Till when his master
At length to loose him,
To train and use him,
Is after all gone, —
The creature’s throttled
And will not waken.
Wherefore, my lady,
If you will own me,
O look upon me!
If I’m not thought on,
At least perceive me!
O do not leave me
So much forgotten!

If, lady, truly
You wish my profit,
What follows of it
Though still you say so? —
For all your well-wishes
I still am waiting.
I grow unruly,
And deem at last I’m
Only your pastime.
A child will play so,
Who greatly relishes
Sporting and petting
With a little wild bird:
Unaware he kills it, —
Then turns it, feels it,
Calls it with a mild word,
Is angry after, —
Then again in laughter
Loud is the child heard.

O my delightful
My own my lady,
Upon the Mayday
Which brought me to you
Was all my haste then
But a fool’s venture?
To have my sight full
Of you propitious
Truly my wish was,
And to pursue you
And let love chasten
My heart to the centre.
But warming, lady,
May end in burning.
Of all this yearning
What comes, I beg you?
In all your glances
What is’t a man sees? —
Fever and ague.

Thomas Chatterton

WITH Shakspeare’s manhood at a boy’s wild heart,—
Through Hamlet’s doubt to Shakspeare near allied,
And kin to Milton through his Satan’s pride,—
At Death’s sole door he stooped, and craved a dart;
And to the dear new bower of England’s art,—
Even to that shrine Time else had deified,
The unuttered heart that soared against his side,—
Drove the fell point, and smote life’s seals apart.
Thy nested home-loves, noble Chatterton;
The angel-trodden stair thy soul could trace
Up Redcliffe’s spire; and in the world’s armed space
Thy gallant sword-play:—these to many an one
Are sweet for ever; as thy grave unknown
And love-dream of thine unrecorded face.

The World’s Doing

ONE scarce would think that we can be the same
Who used, in those first childish Junes, to creep
With held breath through the underwood, and leap
Outside into the sun. Since this mine aim
Took me unto itself, the joy which came
Into my eyes at once sits hushed and deep;
Nor even the sorrow moans, but falls asleep
And has ill dreams. For you—your very name
Seems altered in mine ears, and cannot send
Heat through my heart, as in those days afar
Wherein we lived indeed with the real life.
Yet why should we feel shame, my dear sweet friend?
Are they most honoured who without a scar
Pace forth, all trim and fresh, from the splashed strife?

The Turning-Point

AT length I sickened, standing in the sun
Truthful and for the Truth, whose only fees
Are madness and sharp death. I bowed my knees
And said: “As long as the world’s years have run,
These accents have been said and these things done:
That which is mine abasement is their ease:
They say, ‘Go to—all this is as we please:
Shall we, being many, step aside for one?’
“And thus it is that though the air be new,
And my brow finds the coolness it hath sought
Through the slow—stricken night,—the daily curse
Weighs on my soul of what I waken to:
For though I loathe the price, this must be bought.”
… Thou fool! Would’st buy from man what God confers?

The Sin Of Detection

SHE bowed her face among them all, as one
By one they rose and went. A little scorn
They showed—a very little. More forlorn
She seemed because of that: she might have grown
Proud else in her turn, and have so made known
What she well knew—that the free—hearted corn,
Kissed by the hot air freely all the morn,
Is better than the weed which has its own
Foul glut in secret. Both her white breasts heaved
Like heaving water with their weight of lace;
And her long tresses, full of musk and myrrh,
Were shaken from the braids her fingers weaved,
So that they hid the shame in her pale face.
Then I stept forth, and bowed addressing her.

The Last Three From Trafalgar At The Anniversary Banquet, St October

IN grappled ships around The Victory,
Three boys did England’s Duty with stout cheer,
While one dread truth was kept from every ear,
More dire than deafening fire that churned the sea:
For in the flag-ship’s weltering cockpit, he
Who was the Battle’s Heart without a peer,
He who had seen all fearful sights save Fear,
Was passing from all life save Victory.
And round the old memorial board to-day,
Three greybeards—each a warworn British Tar—
View through the mist of years that hour afar:
Who soon shall greet, ‘mid memories of fierce fray,
The impassioned soul which on its radiant way
Soared through the fiery cloud of Trafalgar.

The Card-Dealer

Could you not drink her gaze like wine?
Yet though its splendour swoon
Into the silence languidly
As a tune into a tune,
Those eyes unravel the coiled night
And know the stars at noon.
The gold that’s heaped beside her hand,
In truth rich prize it were;
And rich the dreams that wreathe her brows
With magic stillness there;
And he were rich who should unwind
That woven golden hair.
Around her, where she sits, the dance
Now breathes its eager heat;
And not more lightly or more true
Fall there the dancers’ feet
Than fall her cards on the bright board
As ’twere a heart that beat.
Her fingers let them softly through,
Smooth polished silent things;
And each one as it falls reflects
In swift light-shadowings,
Blood-red and purple, green and blue,
The great eyes of her rings.
Whom plays she with? With thee, who lov’st
Those gems upon her hand;
With me, who search her secret brows;
With all men, bless’d or bann’d.
We play together, she and we,
Within a vain strange land:
A land without any order,—
Day even as night, (one saith,)—
Where who lieth down ariseth not
Nor the sleeper awakeneth;
A land of darkness as darkness itself
And of the shadow of death.
What be her cards, you ask? Even these:—
The heart, that doth but crave
More, having fed; the diamond,
Skilled to make base seem brave;
The club, for smiting in the dark;
The spade, to dig a grave.
And do you ask what game she plays?
With me ’tis lost or won;
With thee it is playing still; with him
It is not well begun;
But ’tis a game she plays with all
Beneath the sway o’ the sun.
Thou seest the card that falls,—she knows
The card that followeth:
Her game in thy tongue is called Life,
As ebbs thy daily breath:
When she shall speak, thou’lt learn her tongue
And know she calls it Death.

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